Cyrano

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By Philip Pearce

IT’S INTERESTING the way that PacRep’s current season takes two central heroes of early 20th century European drama, Peter Pan and Cyrano de Bergerac, and gives them each a new look. Plus the frank theatricality of a handful of actors playing a whole lot of the characters involved in the stories of their lives.

In the June/July production of Peter and the Starcatcher twelve actors played more than 30 roles in a swashbuckling prequel to the August/July musical version of Peter Pan.

Now there’s an exciting new version of Cyrano, which tells the well-loved tale but pares nearly 50 speaking roles down to 27 to be played by a cast of nine.

When you think about it, Peter and Cyrano are cut from the same mold. Both are chock full of swaggering self-confidence, both are supernaturally brilliant swordsmen, both are sworn enemies of the social status quo. “I want,” Cyrano explains at one point, “to reduce the number of bows I have to make in a day.” Peter doesn’t want to grow up and have to make that kind of decision in the first place.

Like many another theater addict of my generation, I’ve always loved Rostand’s three hour, five-act marathon of moonlit romance, spontaneous poetry and dashing swordplay. But Michael Hollinger’s slick new translation and the fresh two-act adaptation of the text he shares with Aaron Posner make for a fast-paced and thoroughly satisfying evening in the Outdoor Forest Theater.

In a recent interview, Hollinger notes that the original script’s world of 17th century Paris isn’t exactly familiar territory to 21st century audiences. “It was important to me that the play speak to us, here and now, and therefore I made myself the litmus test of what would be accessible, immediate, funny, poignant, and so on.”

So there’s little left of Rostand’s blank verse or the sections of social comment on French society of the 1600’s. What comes across vividly is the central ironic dilemma of a man with a face so unsightly he can only use his supreme genius for poetic love talk to push his lady love into the arms of a handsome but tongue-tied rival.

Pacific Rep executive director Stephen Moorer is an active, touching and consistently funny Cyrano. He mines every vein of wit in the new script and catches most of the underlying pathos without ever slipping into the lilting Gielgud/Burton attitude and voice adopted by some Cyranos I’ve seen. His dying attack against social convention and phony officialdom is no reflective elegy, it’s a ruthless sword fight to the death.

This new version makes it easier to explore character motivations and navigate some of the finer points of 17th century French civic and military life by expanding the role of Le Bret. He’s no longer just Cyrano’s trusty military buddy; he’s a wise narrator who steps out of the action and into a spotlight to explain things directly to us ticket holders. It works admirably. Unlike Rostand’s audience but just like Shakespeare’s, we’ve reached a point where we like it when somebody pauses the story and comments on what’s going on. As always, Jeffrey T Heyer is clear and believable in the role.

The remainder of the players are busy and excellent, moving nimbly through two or three roles apiece. Jennifer Le Blanc is a beautiful, passionate Roxane, so swept up in a duet of Cyrano’s poetry and Gascon-cadet Christian de Neuvillette’s good looks that it takes her fourteen years to discover she’s been in love with the soul of one and only the body of the other.

Justin Gordon is an appealing Christian, a fresh military recruit who’s closely in touch with his feelings but clueless in expressing them. I liked his last-minute wide-eyed explosion of terror at having to woo the lovely Roxane, even coached by the eloquent Cyrano.

D Scott McQuiston is a bubbly and comically endearing Ragueneau, a pastry chef and would-be poet, who manages (in the interest of trimming down cast size) to shout protests at his wife for wrapping her pastries in the texts of his verses without her ever actually appearing on stage.

A small and energetic Andrew Mazer is convincingly tipsy as a bibulous cadet named Ligniere.  Lewis Rhames is willowy and comically inept as a plumed Parisian popinjay named De Valvert, one of a string of candidates for the hand of the fair Roxane. More purposeful and pompous is Michael Storm as another suitor, De Guiche, commander of Cyrano and Christian’s Gascon battalion. The versatile and surprising Garland Thompson moves effortlessly through five different roles, most notably in drag as Roxane’s busybody and sweet-toothed duenna and then in Rosary and wimple as the chatty, broom-wielding Sister Marthe.

Kenneth Kelleher’s direction manages, again and again, to make the nine-member cast look and act like a big crowd. My favorite segment of Act 1 is a sequence that doesn’t even happen in the old Rostand version. Cyrano, high and happy at some fond attention from his beloved Roxane, learns that a hundred sword-wielding thugs are planning a midnight ambush at the Porte de Nesle. He vows to bare his sword and carve them up, single handedly, one by one. Rostand’s script simply reports his success after the fact. Kelleher, Moorer and fight director Justin Gordon show it happening in a shadowy ballet of flashing swordplay which proves that perfectly timed farce can be both hilarious and beautiful.

I loved the show, but I had minor problems with the set design. The big outdoor theater stage allows for a lot of depth and width. But is the backstage area so limited that ingredients of Patrick McEvoy’s settings need to be stored in plain view instead of waiting in the wings to be wheeled on when required? The big quarter moon awaited its appearance in the balcony/garden scene from a position way upstage. And an unchanging background of blue-green wooden fretwork units gave a sense of clutter.

That said, it’s a must see, but take plenty of coats and blankets. It continues through October 15th.

 

 

Weekly Magazine

THIS WEEK

RED VELVET, by playwright Lolita Chakrabarti and based on a true story, opens at the Colligan in Santa Cruz, with previews tomorrow and Thursday. The play takes audiences to the backstage world of London’s Theatre Royal in the early 1800s when Edmund Kean, the greatest actor of his generation, has taken ill and can’t go on as Othello. A young American actor named Ira Aldridge arrives to step into the role, even though no black man has ever played Othello on the English stage. His groundbreaking performance upends stage tradition and changes the lives of everyone involved. GIAN CARLO MENOTTI’s opera, Amahl and the Night Visitors, gets two matinee performances at UC Santa Cruz on Saturday. SANTA CRUZ SYMPHONY performs twice. (See pre-concert comment below.) On Thursday at Kuumbwa, award-winning pianist and composer ANDRÉ MEHMARI (pictured above) traces the evolution of Brazilian musical identity through its crucial transformations, beginning with the birth of choro in the 19th century, the flowering of new forms in the 20th century, and today’s stylings. Among the composers celebrated in this journey are Ernesto Nazareth, Pixinguinha, Radamés Gnatalli, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Hermeto Pascoal and Edu Lobo. (See below). For links to these and dozens of other live performance events, click our CALENDAR

 

SANTA CRUZ SHAKESPEARE’S NEW LEASE  
THE GROVE gets a 20-year contract. Click HERE   

IS BONNY DOON FOR THE BIRDS?

SO SUGGESTS composer John Wineglass (pictured) who was commissioned by the Santa Cruz Symphony to compose a six-minute tone poem that sent him to the unincorporated logging hamlet of Bonny Doon, slightly northwest from the UC Santa Cruz campus. I know the Emmy-winning Wineglass to be a sensitive and conscientious musician who is acutely alert to the human condition; his 2012 Cabrillo Festival premiere, Someone Else’s Child, drew on texts from inmates in the Santa Cruz Juvenile Detention Center, as he explains here.

His 2017 Monterey Symphony commission, Big Sur the Night Sun, embraced instruments (native flute and percussion) of the regionally-indigenous Ohlone-Chumash nations. (Recently he has had large-scale premieres, intentionally rooted in local history, in Stockton and San Bernardino.) But in the Bonny Doon piece, to premiere this weekend, the Symphony seems to have blown a big opportunity to acknowledge and cultivate a demographic that perhaps has been taken for granted, or even ignored. According to the 2010 census*, Bonny Doon is 92.4 percent white, while Watsonville, where the Symphony plays the same number of performances as in Santa Cruz, is 81.4 percent Hispanic. In commissioning Wineglass, the Symphony might (for two obvious reasons) have sought a Latino-themed piece; its just-circulated annual report shows scant support from the county’s Hispanic demographic. Bonny Doon is the wrong ‘hood to celebrate. Maybe they thought nobody would notice. SM

*The racial makeup of Bonny Doon was 2,474 (92.4%) White, 9 (0.3%) African American, 15 (0.6%) Native American, 51 (1.9%) Asian, 5 (0.2%) Pacific Islander, 48 (1.8%) from other races, and 76 (2.8%) from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 168 persons (6.3%). The racial makeup of Watsonville was 22,399 (43.7%) White, 358 (0.7%) African American, 629 (1.2%) Native American, 1,664 (3.3%) Asian, 40 (0.1%) Pacific Islander, 23,844 (46.6%) from other races, and 2,265 (4.4%) from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 41,656 persons (81.4%).

 

RICHARD EGARR NAMED TO SUCCEED McGEGAN

SAN FRANCISCO’S S PHILHARMONIA BAROQUE chooses internationally acclaimed keyboardist/conductor as music director following founding MD McGegan’s retirement after the 2020 season and a 35-year career on the PB podium. Once again, highly qualified Americans passed over. Click HERE    

 

THE HYPERTRAGIC NOTCH

FROM HUNGARY TO TAIWAN?

DESPITE THE PROSAIC TITLE, this is a splendid intro to the whiz-bang Formosa Quartet. Bartók’s Fourth String Quartet of 1928 is the only well-known piece on the program and, despite its age, sounds fresh and timeless; for all of its innovations and originality, it might have been composed last year by…no one I can think of. Bartók used his preferred five-movement layout: an edgy Allegro, a spooky Prestissimo with mutes, a Lento that features a big cello solo, a pizzicato Allegretto and a folkdance animated Allegro. Hungarian Folk Songs of 2008 was commissioned by Formosa from Dana Wilson (born 1946) and captures the high energy of Hungarian dance laced with virtuoso solo flights and flavors of Rom culture; this is 19 minutes of toe-tapping pleasure that magically exploits every possibility of four string instruments. The program ends with Four Taiwanese Folk Songs of 2017 by Wei-Chieh Lin (born 1982), another Formosa commission, and stylistically lingers in a more traditional idiom; its longer outer movements are arranged with Western-style lush string writing. But, for me, the most beguiling of all is Song Recollections of 2016 by Lei Liang (born 1972), a Chinese-American composer who teaches at UC San Diego. A single movement lasting 24 minutes, it falls into three distinct sections, the first using the string quartet to imitate a variety of traditional Chinese instruments, among them the sheng (hand-held mouth-blown reed organ), guzheng (zither) and pipa (lute). Suddenly, the full string quartet sonority erupts, and, like the first section, preserves the highly recognizable Chinese pentatonic scale but with original inflections. The third part begins as the piece opened, but then seems to comingle those imitations with the dancing rhythms and sonorities from the second, and grows more complex as it probes further into its now-even-deeper “recollections.” This was the piece that drew me back over and over. SM

A SPIDER BITE IGNITES A DANCE CRAZE

ORIGIN of the tarantella. Click HERE  

9 MUSICIANS KEEP CREATIVE WITHOUT BOOZE OR DRUGS

CHRIS HEATH reports on how they got and stayed sober in his interviews for GQ. Click HERE  

HELLO DOLLY

WALT DeFARIA tells us that he will direct a new production of the Jerry Herman musical at Carmel’s outdoor Forest Theater this coming summer.

HELLO DOLLY 2

HERE YOU COME AGAIN from 1977

 

FRESH REVIEW

BORROMEO QUARTET and clarinetist Richard Stoltzman. Click HERE

NEXT WEEK

CHAMPIONS OF THE ARTS GALA, the Arts Council for Monterey County’s annual celebration, at the Hyatt Regency in Monterey. SMUIN BALLET returns to Carmel with two performances of its Dance Series 01. IN C composer Terry Riley, the ‘father’ of minimalism, to appear at Peace United in Santa Cruz. GUITARIST BENJAMIN VERDERY comes to UC Santa Cruz. HOT CLUB OF SAN FRANCISCO at Kuumbwa.  

FOLLOW US ON TWITTER: @PerfArtsMtyBay

Scott MacClelland, editor; Rebecca CR Brooks, associate editor

 

Borromeo Quartet & Richard Stoltzman

By Scott MacClelland

CLARINETIST RICHARD STOLTZMAN is no stranger to Carmel. Now 76, he returned to perform for Chamber Music Monterey Bay with the Borromeo String Quartet, together attracting a large audience at Sunset Center on Saturday. Borromeo and Stoltzman last appeared here in January, 2010. He read his part from traditional score; they read theirs on iPads and turned pages with a foot pedal. (Borromeo, named after the wealthy Italian family whose son Carlo, a 16th century counter-reformation cardinal and inquisitor of the Roman Catholic Church, is well known locally for the Carmel mission that bears his name.)

At 100 minutes total performing time, this was an unusually generous program. (These days, classical concerts typically offer 60 to 70 minutes total.) Two works for string quartet alone included the well-known Quartet in G Minor by Debussy—a knockout reading indeed!—and two movements from Etudes and Lullabies by American composer Sebastian Currier. With Stoltzman on board, they performed the quintet by Jean Françaix (a local premiere I believe) and the famous and well-loved quintet by Mozart.

With the Mozart and Brahms clarinet quintets as looming masterpieces, Françaix knew he had to go for gold. As a Frenchman, however, he was not about to be intimidated; he composed his in 1977 as a boldly ambitious work in four movements lasting nearly half an hour. Moreover, he applied his French sensibilité that maximizes clarity laced with Gallic musical wit. That wit usually shows up in the quicker bits and movements as it did when the languid opening adagio gave way to a snarky clarinet solo that led to the cheeky allegro, à la Erik Satie and his disciples, Poulenc, Milhaud et al. The second movement, scherzando, was playful, syncopated and with much string pizzicato. The brief third movement, grave, is nothing more or less than a tender lullaby, while the rondo finale gives expanded phrasing to the clarinet against quicker chatter on the strings. It also gave the clarinet generous opportunities to go its own way, right up to and including a solo cadenza and a ripe red raspberry—that you won’t hear from other players—just before the end.

The Debussy quartet was played with such single-minded brilliance and élan that one might have thought the iPad technology was a contributing factor. Beforehand, violinist Nicholas Kitchen explained that Debussy had in mind the great Belgian violinist/composer Eugène-Auguste Ysaÿe (1858-1931), the “tsar” of the violin as Nathan Milstein described him. Ysaÿe indeed inspired virtuoso works by others of his contemporary composers.

Kitchen also told an amusing story about working with Currier, specifically as it applied to the Etude No. 6 “Velocities,” an eerie high-speed scurry composed (along with its other movements) in 2017 for Borromeo. Let’s just say that if the iPad made the quartet’s work easier, it wasn’t by much. The slow, tremulous, brittle Lullaby No. 2 “Dreaming” made you realize how hyperventilated “Velocities” was.

At last came the Mozart. Like the Françaix, the texture makes clear how different the personality of the clarinet is to the string quartet. Even with fine ensemble playing, Stoltzman asserted himself at every opportunity right from the start. The heart and soul of the piece is the melting second movement Larghetto, a tender seduction that, along with several other late Mozart masterpieces proves that that great classicist was at heart a romantic. For another thing, he shows himself to be no slave to convention; in the first of the two trios (in the minuet) he gives the clarinet nothing to do, but then chooses to remember it in the second trio. For the jovial finale, the expected rondo was in this case replaced by a theme and five variations, plus a coda which itself sounds largely like another variation.

Chamber music you say? It doesn’t get better than this.